If Granite Could Talk

A look back as we approach our 125th year.

By Julie Yates, Director of Alumnae/i Relations

Perched on the edge of our 125th Anniversary Celebration, I am awed by the rich history of The White Mountain School. In the fall of 1886, we opened our doors as St. Mary’s School (SMS) to a small group of eager girls in Concord, NH. If the New Hampshire granite could talk, we would surely hear stories from that day of excitement and anticipation; a tone of seriousness punctuated by giggles. For nearly 50 years, the School’s Concord home was a place in which girls prepared for college and life beyond academics and where they built life-long friendships.

In 1935, Headmistress Dorothy E. McLane, “Aunt Dot”, outlined her plan to move the School to the White Mountains.  Aunt Dot, a firm believer in the importance of academic and athletic challenge, as well as a lover of the outdoors, held the 50th Commencement exercises of St Mary’s-in-the-Mountains at the newly purchased “Seven Springs Estate”, formerly owned by Eman and Mary Payne Beck in Bethlehem, NH.  During these years stories from the granite would include annual all-school hikes up Mt. Lafayette, afternoon teas, rigorous academic study and skiing Tuckerman’s ravine.  SMS girls were encouraged to challenge themselves both in and out of the classroom.

After a number of successful years in it’s northern location, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains suffered a devastating fire.  On January 3, 1964, the main building of the Seven Springs Estate was burned to the ground.  Hard work and an inspired fundraising campaign by a committed group of trustees, alumnae/i and friends of the School resulted in its rebuilding at the same location in 1964-65.  Surely the stories from this time are of determination, devotion and dedication to one’s alma mater.

In tandem with national trends, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains considered coeducation in the late 1960s, welcoming its first male day students in September of 1970. Along with coeducation came a name change to The White Mountain School. New dorms were built to accommodate expanding numbers and the School’s long-time appreciation of the natural environment was formalized, first in the Outdoor Education Department and later in the Sustainability Studies Program.

On the one hand, our 125 year history is marked by adaptation to change. At the same time, our core beliefs and the true essence of our School have stayed the same. As devoted alumna, parent, trustee, and employee of the School Linda Clark McGoldrick ’55 noted in her book, “Our First Hundred Years”:

The constant is this belief: capable young people deserve to be challenged in a small school that develops the body, the mind and the soul in an uplifting environment… The unchanging principle has been the caring of older generations for the younger as they search together for the meaning of life. Respect for the individual; an open sharing in service to one another; and a zeal to excel in everything one does- these qualities shine throughout our first century. And in every year of our School’s existence, students and teachers discover friendships that last a lifetime.
These words ring just as true now, as we approach our 125th Anniversary, as they did at our 100th. Students discover talents and strengths, passions and purpose at our School. They graduate prepared to succeed in college and life. It remains a truly inspiring place in which to live and learn.

As the Class of 2011 prepares for Commencement on May 28, I can almost hear our NH granite whispering, “Believe in yourself and all you have learned here, find strength in the successes of those who have walked in each of these last 124 commencements and add your voice to the next 125 years worth of stories from The White Mountain School.”

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